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Themes

My Ántonia tells the story of white settlers in the American West around 1900. The characters deal with many different forms of suffering. The natural elements present a great challenge, particularly to the farmers. Main character Jim argues that the cold is their greatest enemy. In the long winters everyone must deal with limited food and harsh conditions. The immigrants in particular suffer as they try and adapt to a new culture and country – some of the established farmers try to take advantage of them because they don't speak the language. Emotional hardship is also one of the trials these characters suffer, and on account of it a suicide features prominently in the novel. Still, many of the characters end up stronger because of the suffering they experience. Cather clearly admires the Nebraskans for their efforts and resilience.

Questions About Suffering

  1. What is the main cause of the immigrants' suffering – the natural elements or the established Americans?
  2. In what ways does the immigrants' suffering help them?
  3. What specific anecdotes of suffering shape Cather's portrait of immigrant life?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The immigrants' suffering makes them stronger.

Most of the immigrants' suffering is due to natural elements.

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